As anyone reading this who is into photography will know, ones kit bag tends to evolve as they get further into their photography. On a basic level this can be the actual tool that we photographers use, the camera, as maybe we want to explore a different format, or perhaps the current rig that we use no longer helps as it has become limiting in some capacity. Stick with it long enough and your inventory to fill with lots of other little trinkets and accessories that end up becoming essential to you in your everyday shooting situation such as remote controls/cable releases, flashguns, and filters.
Though they have applications across the board for many different kinds of photographers, filters are an invaluable bit of kit for the landscape photographer. If you are a beginner photographer who starts trying your hand at landscape shots near the beginning or end of the the day, your experiments will quickly reveal that film and sensors only have so much latitude before the differences between darker areas and lighter areas are too much for the recording medium to handle. The results are either shadow areas with lots of detail and blown out highlight or the complete opposite depending on how you have metered the scene. Reading up on the matter you realise that you are going to have to invest in a set of graduated neutral density (GND) filters so that you can can get an exposure where you can control the lighter parts of the image, such as the sky, to bring your exposure back within the aforementioned latitude limits of the medium you happen to be using. A lot of photographers using digital cameras have now forgone the use of filters such as GNDs, as they now choose to capture different exposures for the different tonal ranges of the scene and then blend them together in post-production. For those wanting to do as much as they can in-camera, however, GNDs are an invaluable tool and there are other filters which have effects that software currently cannot reproduce, such as polarising filters.
As alluded to above, filters found their way into my armory from a reasonably early stage after early disastrous attempts at shots without their usage (though if you are a beginner who has stumbled across this blog it is worth noting that these disasters are invaluable, as it is through these failed attempts that you learn and grow as a photographer). So I spent some money and invested in the Cokin P system, which suited my budget at the time, and up until very recently it has been a constant companion in my bag.
For the most part the filters have served me well and their application has usually produced the effect that I was looking for. That being said, there has always been issues that have persisted throughout my time with them, particularly Cokin's GND filters. Whilst they provide a very affordable way to introduce filters into your kit bag, the Cokin grads are absolutely terrible for introducing a colour cast into a picture. For those that have used them this will come as no great shock as it is a well documented phenomenon, but over time it comes to be a great annoyance having to try and fix this cast at the editing stage, something which has on occasions proven almost impossible to rectify without unduly affecting the image to its detriment.
Enter the Lee system.
The Lee filter system that I have eyed greedily for a long time. As a filter manufacturer their reputation precedes them; high quality construction materials and, in the case of the GNDs, colour neutrality. I have wanted to buy into the Lee system for a long time but the chief barrier has been cost. These things are so expensive! In the UK a set of GNDs with the Cokin P system will set you back (at the time of writing) £60, but a set of Lee's will set you back £199, and that's just for one full set - if you buy both hard and soft GNDs you are just pushing £400. As you can probably agree that is quite a lot of money to spend. There is also the filter holder and adapter rings to purchase, so it very quickly starts mounting up. It is an investment, however, so I have finally decided spend the money and buy into the system. I do think the holder and adapter rings, for all their quality, are overpriced but that is a grumble I will have to contend with.
My first purchase has actually been another type of filter that Lee makes, the big stopper (for anyone reading this unaware of what that is, it is a ND filter that reduces the light entering the lens by 10 stops). Long exposure photography has become very popular over the last few years and it has definitely piqued my interest as of late. I have shot a couple of tests, one of which is featured below, and I have recently shot some 'proper' photographs with it but they are currently awaiting development. I think my first GND purchase is going to be a couple of hard filters and one soft one. They do sell these filters in complete sets but I have been reading that the 0.3 filters are rarely used, so I am wanting to spend my money wisely. After that I will be saving for a circular polariser.
So far the system has been an absolute joy to use and the difference in quality is very apparent. Once the adapter ring is screwed into the front of your lens the filter holder clips on and off very easily, making for a nice quick set-up. One of the things I am going to be extra careful with when using this sytem is handling and storage of the filters. The big stopper itself is a glass filter and so far I have been handling it with kid gloves, lest I damage it. I have damaged a few GNDs before with the Cokin P system but they have always had the advantage of being cheap to replace; Lee filters does not afford the same lackadaisical attitude.
The big stopper is a filter I am excited to get using and I already have a batch of images taken with it that I am just waiting to get developed now. It opens up a world of image making that I have hitherto not been able to explore, though it is a technique I am going to be conscious of not going overboard with. The GNDs are going to be put into action once I have them in my hand as recently I have been conservative about trying particular shots due to me not having a GND solution to work with, so that is going to be great going forward.
A lot of money has been spent but I am confident that it will be an investment that will pay dividends for future images. If you are reading this and contemplating buying into the Lee system, I cannot recommend it highly enough.